In the front of his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller notes that both orthodox Christianity and Secular irreligion (Atheism in some cases) are gaining footholds around the world. This sets us up for a philosophical and political clash of the Titans which we experience in a variety of ways. What I never expected, however, was to experience it in exercise.
Behold, the new religion of exercise. This religion has all the makings of a cult with its stringent orthodoxy (training with sledge hammers and tires), its well spoken advocates (coaches and workout instructors), and its more than willing participants (normally younger men and women). This is of interest to me since in the past ten years of my life I’ve dabbled in the extreme sport of marathon running. Now it would appear that training for marathons, and even running them, is really no longer extreme. It’s something people do to check off their “bucket list.” However, the new paradigm of exercise has all taken things to another level. It’s not conditioning to accomplish a sport but conditioning for conditionings sake and often in the most extreme fashion. What is valued is the exercise for exercise itself. Instead of preparing us for some athletic competition, it drives the one exercising to what is ultimate, provides protection for a future apocalypse, and seeks to provide answers to life’s real meaning
New York Times writer, Heather Havrilesky,
our new religion has more than a little in common with the religions that brought our ancestors to America in the first place. Like the idealists and extremists who founded this country, the modern zealots of exercise turn their backs on the indulgences of our culture, seeking solace in self-abnegation and suffering. ‘This is the route to a better life,’ they tell us, gesturing at their sledgehammers and their kettlebells, their military drills and their dramatic re-enactments of hard labor. And in these uncertain times, it doesn’t sound so bad to be prepared for some coming disaster — or even for an actual job doing hard labor, if our empire ever falls.
It makes sense that for those segments of humanity who aren’t fighting for survival every day of their lives, the new definition of fulfillment is feeling as if you’re about to die. Maybe that’s the point. If we aren’t lugging five gallons of water back from a well 10 miles away or slamming a hammer into a mountainside, something feels as if it’s missing. Who wants to sit alone at a desk all day, then work out alone on a machine? Why can’t we suffer and sweat together, as a group, in a way that feels meaningful? Why can’t someone yell at us while we do it? For the privileged, maybe the most grueling path seems the most likely to lead to divinity. When I run on Sunday mornings, I pass seven packed, bustling fitness boutiques, and five nearly empty churches.”
Did you get that? People rather suffer the extreme pain of “hard labor physical fitness” than the emptiness of religiousity. Very interesting. Truthfully, I agree with them. Churches are empty for a reason and exercise boutiques are full of people for a reason. Maybe we should consider why. After all, while exercise may prolong your life, it never promises to save your soul. If anything, it delays the inevitable. So why are churches so empty and exercise facilities so full? Maybe its because churches have lost their way, like everyone else, and haven’t figured it out yet. Check out the article. It will be worth a read.